CIVIL Services in India have commanded an elite status ever since the first Indian, Satyendranath Tagore, was selected as an Indian Civil Services (ICS) officer in 1863. Paradoxically, the aura of the Service was heightened even more when young Subhash Chandra Bose quit the service in 1921 despite being one of the top four in the competition, the toughest in those days not only for the Indians but also for the British aspirants. No other career for the youth was more precious than being a member of the ICS. And yet, young Subhash chose to sacrifice his career impelled by his conscience to serve the nation differently. No politician—not even Mahatma Gandhi—has evoked more respect, love and awe across the masses than Netaji in India. And his enigma has continued to haunt India’s consciousness to such an extent that no one ever believed the news of his death in the air crash on August 18, 1945.
Transformed into the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) after Independence, the Service has continued to be the spine of governance in India. Sardar Patel, who is credited with bringing together the fragmented units of the country in 1947, had envisioned that this Service would be the kingpin to strengthen national unity. The Indian bureaucracy has largely lived up to those expectations, odd aberrations notwithstanding. There are examples of splendid performance of officers who have often risked not only their career but even life in serving the people conscientiously, ensuring speedy execution of public welfare projects and enhancing public welfare and security even in the so-called ‘liberated zones’ in the insurgency affected States. In many cases such conscientious officers have won people’s confidence to such an extent that they were hailed as ‘heroes’ and became objects of envy for the local politicians and the naxal operatives. It is laudable that such conscientious officers of our Civil Services are honoured and awarded every year!
In the recent decades, however, the aura of the Service has suffered a decline, great examples of exceptional performance notwithstanding. Over the last few decades, the bureaucracy has been increasingly dubbed as ‘babus’ and ‘babudom’. The very connotation of these terms has shifted the image of power and prestige to that of red-tape and arrogance. Perhaps this decline is in tune with the overall fall of moral standards in the society at large. Scams and scandals involving political parties, corporate houses, NGOs, Gurus/Godmen and even schools are no longer exception. Reading daily newspapers and listening to TV channels is depressing. What is even more demoralising for the masses is the fact that scams and crime cannot flourish unless there is official acquiescence, connivance or covert partnership in the exploits.
A well-oiled system is found always at work to thwart official enquiries by muddling the incident of corruption or crime through irrelevant but emotive issues to deflect and derail investigations. Be it heinous crimes like rape and murder, accidents or nature’s catastrophe, incidents are quickly collated by the lobbyist media in caste-communal categories and coloured to rouse public passion along politically motivated lines. In times when politicians are smugly baking their bread by igniting disturbances and exploiting deaths and public losses, it has become more expedient than ever that bureaucrats must step out and assume their leadership role to contain public ire and disappointment, restore public confidence and foster harmony using their authority impartially and resolutely.
It is disappointing that the executive power of the State—the bureaucracy—is seldom visible and never audible to people until there is chaos around. Why is the public not informed about government policies, plans and progress on projects that affect every citizen today and his progeny tomorrow? Why is no information disseminated to the people on issues of wider public concern viz, national security, agriculture, health, education, trade, manufacturing, import/export and so on? Why should any influential criminal need political clearance to be arrested? These are all indicators of apathy, indifference, inefficiency or collusion that seems to be afflicting our bureaucracy today.
Agreed, there is political interference that hinders the fair and smooth run of civil administration. But these hazards of service have only multiplied over the years thanks to the pliable officers willing to yield to unfair demands and pressures. Loyalty of public servants has inarguably shifted from ‘public’ to the ‘boss’! No wonder people are increasingly turning to their MLA/MP or CM even for their routine entitlements and needs that the civil administration must provide. The state of government schools, hospitals and civic amenities is pathetic in every State and town. In contrasts, there is an array of International schools and private hospitals with state-of-the-art diagnostic machines and facilities just across the road in all metro cities of India.
Sheer apathy, arrogance and growing delinquency describe today’s temples of worship, health and education. There are certain ‘essential services’ that cannot—and should not—go on strike. There is a good reason why soldiers are denied their right to go on strike, no matter what their perceived grievance may be! Now, imagine doctors in a hospital abandoning patients waiting in the Emergency and Operation Theatres and proceeding on strike with impunity. Who is responsible for the deaths and health deterioration of patients in the hospital? What is the role of bureaucrats in health departments under whose jurisdiction such hospitals fall?
AN incident of the pre-Independence days highlights the significance of public servants’ loyalty towards the people. Sir Chhotu Ram, the revenue minister of Punjab in 1940, appointed three meritorious individuals as Tehsildars—one each from Ahir, Jat and Rajput castes, the main agrarian communities in Punjab those days. One of them wrote a letter of thanks to the Minister. In his reply to the newly appointed Tehsildar, Ram wrote on June 30, 1940: “Dear Harphul, Received your letter of the 24th June. I am very glad that you have after all been accommodated in a very decent job. The only return that I expect of you for what little I was able to do for you is strict honesty, sympathetic treatment of the poor and an ever present consciousness in your mind that as member of a poor class, you owe a duty to that class and to all poor people of other classes. – Yours Sincerely, Sd/- Chhotu Ram.”
TODAY, there is no dearth of laws, rules and the administrative apparatus needed to deliver good governance to the people. Only the compassion preached by Sir Chhotu Ram has gone extinct. Honest leaders, sincere and daring officers are a diminishing breed we need to preserve and proliferate if unity and integrity of the country is to be preserved and strengthened.
‘Rule of Law’ is the pre-requisite for good governance to flow to the people impartially and universally. If the Civil Administration gives up, no other agency can guarantee good governance. There are live examples where the officers have stood up to enforce rule of law and refused to yield to unfair demands and coercive tactics of their political bosses. They faced all sorts of threats and hardships but ultimately came out victorious and glorified with added honours. When honest officers embark upon a mission to do good for the people, invisible powers unite to guard them. The case of Durga Shakti Nagpal, an SDM posted in Noida, in 2013 is a glaring example of an officer determined to face consequences of her actions done in right earnest. Earlier, her predecessors had either not dared to stir the mafia smuggling truckloads of sand illegally from the prohibited zone along the Yamuna, or may have connived to let the business go on! Durga refused to toe this line of coy acquiescence. She arrested the goons and impounded their trucks, inviting wrath not only from the mafia but also from their political lords who were in power then. Attempts were made to silence her, but no threats deterred her, no coercion worked on her. She was suspended on flimsy grounds, but all the evil forces ultimately ate the humble pie when the UP government was forced to give in to public pressure to reinstate the honest officer.
There are many more examples of honest civil services officers whose honesty, dedication and sense of commitment to ‘serve the people’ is eloquently heard from time to time from different parts of the country. There is ample scope for innovation in every department of public service. There is no dearth of vision, capability and capacity in these young top brains of the country selected for the elite national service. They will rise further in public esteem if they genuinely treat themselves as ‘servants of the people’ and refuse to remain minions of unscrupulous leaders.There are many examples of yeomen service for the young IAS officers to follow. Listing out names of all such heroes of the public is neither feasible nor expedient. It would, however, be of great value if their case studies are widely circulated and published within the Civil Services and in the media.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dictum—‘Minimum Government, Maxi-mum Governance’—should inspire and embolden conscientious officers to take the lead—‘governance’ within their jurisdiction with a missionary’s zeal and commitment.